If you really get into hand spinning–if it becomes more than a means to an end (cheap yarn!), if you find yourself at summer parties wishing you had brought your wheel instead of potato salad–if this is you, then at some point you’ve probably fantasized about owning sheep. I sure did.
The desire to own sheep is something I’ve heard a lot lately, even among people who admire spinning but don’t actually spin themselves. Some of them don’t even knit or crochet or weave. They just want sheep.
I understand. Once I spun my first fleece, I started thinking about how nice it would be to have a small spinning flock of one or two breeds, maybe even rare breeds. Sure, we lived in a condo, but I saw this as a surmountable problem. We wouldn’t always be living in the city. Someday, we would move to the country. We would buy land, maybe a small hobby farm where I could live out my dream of raising sheep, spinning, and knitting and–apparently–living off my husband’s job, whatever that was going to be in this new rural landscape.
Yes, I would raise sheep. I knew it was a big job, that you couldn’t just leave for days on the spur of the moment, that you needed to give yourself over to hard, physical work. Inside, I knew I was tough; I could do it. In anticipation of this future move, I decided to study up. I devoured Sheep! magazine. I learned what I could from books, the basics of feeding, fencing, sheering, even birthing and predator control. I learned about breed characteristics and talked to breeders about the breeds that grew wool I liked to spin. I knew I’d need a lot of hands-on training before I could handle a flock of my own. And then I learned the biggie: sheep die.
It’s true. They die from all sorts of things and once they die what you have is a big dead sheep. I was ready to run out in the middle of a cold spring morning to help a ewe give birth. I knew about parasites and scrapie and bluetongue and foot rot. Actually, there’s a host of horrible sheep diseases that I won’t mention here, but I figured I could deal with them with the help of a good vet and vigilance.
What I’m saying is this: of course I knew all along that sheep die. What I realized was that I really wanted a flock of pet sheep that lived in my barn. Flockmasters who are close to their sheep talk about how hard it is to lose them. No one wants to lose an animal. You can tell how much it matters when you get a fleece from the bloodline of one they really loved. They want you to make something wonderful from the wool because it contains the legacy of a special animal. If you ask, they offer you fond memories, and I treasure these fleeces because I’ve been made a steward of the legacy they carry.
As great as it would be to have a spinning flock, I know I just couldn’t do it. Listen, I’m still haunted by the death of my cat Pheefers and she died three years ago. She got the best possible veterinary care and she still died too young. She endured like a little saint. Every night, my husband and I light a candle in her memory and for all the pets our friends have lost. Can you image what I’d be like at the death of my first sheep? Better to leave the shepherding to others. I don’t know how they do it. But they can do it, and I know I can’t.
Not long ago, I was at a llama 4H event with my cousin. Llamas are stately, elegant, beautiful and the spinning is fine. Unlike me, my cousin lives in a rural area and could probably have farm animals. She had never seen a llama up close. “Wow,” she said, “wouldn’t it be great. . . ?” She trailed off. I knew what she was thinking. “Yep,” I agreed. “It sure would.” Except for one thing.